Palestinian activist Iyad Burnat speaks to USF students about nonviolent resistance

02/01/13 Ella Wind
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Palestinian activist Iyad Burnat is profiled in the Oscar-nominated film Five Broken Cameras. He’s touring the United States to spread awareness about the non-violent resistance in his West Bank village of Bil’in. On Thursday at University of South Florida, he spoke about life under Israeli occupation and showed footage of protests from his village.

The village of Bil’in lies just two and a half miles east of the Green Line which marked the boundary between Israel and the Palestinian territories before the 1967 Israeli invasion. In 2004, Israel began construction on a massive separation wall cutting into territory in Bil'in. The wall divides Israel and the West Bank and also cuts through the West Bank. Residents began weekly protests in opposition to the construction, and formed the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall.

“This is [what is happening] now in our villages around the wall. They started to confiscate the land [for] “security reasons” or “closed military area.” Then we find that they start to build new settlements – colonies – on our land.”

Video screened at the talk highlighted the diversity of Bil’in’s protest movement tactics which have made the village famous in the Arab world. Villagers protested creatively by chaining themselves up or dressing up as Mahatma Gandhi and the fictional indigenous Na'vi people from the movie Avatar.

Burnat spoke about his own personal experiences under occupation, and how these led him to devote himself to a life of activism. He has been arrested by the Israeli forces 15 times. At age 17 he was arrested and forced to sign a confession written in Hebrew.

“We have a military court that believes the soldiers, not the people. I [was] arrested in the middle of the night, but they charged me with throwing stones. Because there was a soldier in the court, they said that I was throwing stones.”

Burnat says that western journalists often failed to report on the violent tactics employed against the Palestinians.

“We have 1300 people who [were] injured in the demonstrations in Bil'in. And many of them [were] seriously injured. We have two friends [from Japan who lost their] eyes. They were just taking photos of the demonstrations. We have about 20 people in the village, in Bil'in village, that they lost [body parts from] tear gar and rubber-coated steel bullets.”

Burnat’s tour was almost canceled due to legal restrictions placed by the US and Jordan. He was initially denied permission from Jordan to board his flight. After a week of continued protests, he was allowed to fly to Detroit. During his stopover in Frankfurt, he was detained by U.S. agents and interrogated for several hours. Burnat says the US is equally complicit in the occupation.

“This country is part of the occupation. They have their weapons from this country. The companies who destroyed our olive trees, [they're] American companies. 3.5 billion dollars a year goes to Israeli's army and everyone [knows] what they're doing [with] this money. Also in the political things. We find every time that the Americans support the Israeli occupation through [politics]. By a veto against the Palestinians. So it's the same. It's the same country..”

The film was produced by Iyad Burnat's brother, Emad. Burnat said he hoped the film would increase awareness about the non-violent resistance movement in Palestine.

“So we hope that this movie will [win] the Oscar, to [get] more people here especially in the United States to see this movie see the real life of [Palestinians], not just Israeli propaganda.”

Burnat’s tour will continue into February. In the coming days, he will give a series of talks in Washington D.C., before returning to Bil’in.

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